Scriber Lake High School English teacher Marjie Bowker has been pouring her heart into her students since she began teaching. Looking for unique ways to keep her students engaged, Bowker in 2011 created a Scriber Lake Writing Program that encouraged her students –who come from across the Edmonds School District – to talk about the struggles they endured.
In 2019, Bowker decided she wanted to put an audio spin on her English class, so she reached out to foundry10, an education research organization focused on expanding ideas about youth learning. She met with Chelsi Gorzelsky, foundry10’s program developer, and by 2020, they were ready to add an audio element when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“When I met Marjie – we just clicked,” Gorzelsky said. “In January 2020, Marjie and I made plans for our pilot of a unique English class which would incorporate digital audio to enhance student learning. And then the state locked down. We tumbled into uncertainty and scrambled to figure out how we were going to serve our students.”
When classes returned via Zoom, Scriber librarian Rachel Ramey suggested the pair try a podcast to connect students facing remote learning for the first time. The students had already asked about creating a podcast, so Bowker and Gorzelsky thought: Why not?
Instead of simply incorporating a podcast into the English class, however, Bowker created a completely new class dedicated to learning about podcasts.
Gorzelsky said the students’ pilot episode did better than anyone thought it would.
“In those early pandemic days, we figured it out together and our brave group of students produced ‘Scriber Under Quarantine,’ our very first episode,” Gorzelsky said. “Our pilot proved successful in a way we never imagined it would!”
At first, students planned to read a fictional book and create a podcast roleplaying as characters from that book. However, that idea quickly morphed into using stories from Bowker’s Scriber Lake Writing Program books, in which students wrote about their struggles.
“Our focus was to feature the stories that were written in our book and bring those issues into our podcast discussion,” Bowker said. “We chose the story we were going to feature, and then the kids brainstormed all the discussion around it and the questions they wanted to ask the student body.”
The class started production on each episode with a story written by an author from Bowker’s Writing Program. They then discussed what parts of the story resonated with students in the class and what parts didn’t. Students had the opportunity to respond to the story in the podcast’s interview montage segments, asking and answering questions inspired by the central story. From there, the original authors were invited to talk about their stories in an interview. Staff were also interviewed to get a broader viewpoint.
While some kids were not thrilled about learning to create a podcast, Bowker said most students seemed more engaged than ever.
“It was very conducive to online learning,” she said. “You know kids; they’re all going to tell you that no one was paying attention on Zoom. So it was a way to get participation up and get kids talking to each other.”
Looking back to virtual learning, the podcast class is one of the only positives Bowker can recall. She said it worked so much better online than it would have in person that it was almost a blessing in disguise.
“When I look back on Zoom school, it is the positive that I think of,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I was talking to a bunch of black boxes with names. In the other classes, I kind of felt like I was talking to nobody.”
Both Bowker and Gorzelsky said teaching the class was a lot more work than they expected it to be.
“Our students had school-issued Chromebooks,” Gorzelsky said. “That was our first, and possibly our largest, technical hurdle. Chromebooks don’t have the capability to run industry standard DAWs – digital audio workstations – like ProTools, Ableton or Logic.”
Bowker said with shorter class times, a lot less got done per period than she was hoping. As a result, the class only created one podcast per quarter, rather than the two that were anticipated.
“The goal of the podcast was to bring the Scriber [Lake High School] community together, and it was so powerful to hear a school-wide discussion in a podcast format,” Gorzelsky said.
The podcast didn’t get as much traction as Bowker had hoped. In fact, she said she isn’t sure how many students outside of the class know that it was created. Despite that, Bowker said she remains incredibly proud of how hard her students worked. With such a hands-on project, she was glad to see the students engage so much with the material.
“The kids that were in the class are really proud of it,” Bowker said. “It was very student- oriented and they had to be awake for it. They worked really hard.”
This class would not have been possible without foundry10’s help, according to Bowker.
“When it gets into technology or the arts that I’m not familiar with, foundry10 … is able to take you places,” Bowker said. “They can fill in for whatever you’re not strong in. They’re very professional and so generous. I kind of think they’re the best-kept secret.”
Gorzelsky had the same sentiment toward Bowker.
“I learned so much from Marjie about interviewing and composing a narrative theme across episode segments,” Gorzelsky said. “We each brought our strengths to the table; Marjie facilitated the interview and storyboard processes and I taught Marjie and our students how to utilize digital audio tools.”
Gorzelsky added how inspirational it was to see kids openly discussing topics that have such strong negative connotations around them.
“Working with the students and staff at Scriber has had a profound impact on me,” Gorzelsky said. “These youth dig deep into topics that most adults aren’t brave enough to approach, and they inspired me to face my own stories and process them through writing. It’s hard to put into words how transformative my experience was with them but it feels akin to finding the heart and soul of things instead of just the concrete technical aspects.”
While the podcast class is no longer being offered at Scriber Lake High School – a “Zoom-only special,” as Bowker described it – she hopes the students will take what they learned and use it to create new ways of processing life’s ups and downs.
“It’s been a pleasure and privilege to do this work,” Gorzelsky said. “I like to say some people feel sound, some people see it, most of us hear it. Sound is everywhere in our lives, so why shouldn’t it be a bigger part of education?”
You can listen to the Scriber Lake students’ podcasts here.
— By Lauren Reichenbach